Long, long ago in a cabin, located in a valley deep in the north woods, where the streams freeze solid and the air stands still, lived a family of wolves. We ate our meals voraciously, ripping the oatmeal from the bowls like …
No, not wolves, not really, more like bears. No, not bears either. I'm not sure what we were. We were not normal. We clearly shared characteristics with those animal clans, but we didn't fit in with them either. Our family has just always been different.
By my early teen years, I had discovered that I did not really “need” anything for Christmas. Yet, my parents wanted to get me something cool. Socks were perpetually at the top of my wish list, which, it turns out, is not normal behavior.
I first became aware of our differentness one year when I was about ten. That was a few years before we had moved to the cold north woods of Minnesota.
We, as a family, voted to forgo Christmas gifts for our family and help a family in need. I don't know how my mom found out about that family; she was a secret agent I think. I'm pretty sure that family did not speak English.
We, my siblings and I, were beside ourselves with elation to pick gifts for the “needy” kids. We had no clue we were a poor family ourselves. We labored over choices between multiple small toys versus one larger toy. We knew there was a budget to live within and we had to make the money stretch. As kids, we really had no clue how the parents knew when the magic stream of money from Dad's wallet would suddenly stop, but somehow they knew.
Some of that money also needed to go for blankets and candles for the poor family. Their electricity had been shut off and they needed some lights. And food was included in the must get list as well. All that seemed like an annoying way to inhibit good toy purchasing, but we understood it had to be done.
Then came Christmas Eve when we made the delivery. Anticipation of something is often half the fun and that event was no exception. The Buick station wagon was stuffed to a delightfully uncomfortable level and we set out for the poor side of town. Our normally raucous behavior (remember, we were like a pack of wolves) was intensified by the deep emotion that can only be received by giving.
Then it happened. We pulled up slowly to the tiny, dilapidated house that bore the number we were looking for. It was dark and somber. We became still and silent.
Mom went and knocked at the door. Slowly a large family emerged. They were self-conscious, probably even embarrassed. We were subdued by their discomfort. Slowly we began to hand gifts across the little fence and the packages of blankets, which I had resented, felt priceless. The candles became light to their darkness. And the oh-so important toys … were received with subtle delight!
We left in somber silence. Oddly, I don't remember any tears, but there were undoubtedly plenty.
The next morning, Christmas Day, we awoke to find presents under the tree! What? We thought we were not doing gifts this year! There were fewer than normal, to be sure, but I was confused. It took me until I had kids to get it.
When school reconvened and my friends told about their Christmas, I was shocked by how much stuff they had gotten and did not appreciate. Had I changed? Or was I finally aware that we were not normal? I had never felt like I fit in, and at that moment, I knew I never would.
At fifty something, I still don't feel like I fit in. I'm totally okay with that.